How U.S. tax reform rewards firms that shift revenue to tax havens

(P3PWriter) – The company tax lower handed by U.S. President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans that was partially designed to assist dissuade U.S. firms from transferring earnings abroad could as an alternative make the follow much more rewarding.

FILE PHOTO: A display screen shows the share worth for pharmaceutical maker AbbVie on the ground of the New York Inventory Change July 18, 2014. P3PWriter/Brendan McDermid/File Photograph

That’s as a result of firms which shifted earnings linked to U.S. gross sales, analysis or manufacturing beforehand needed to pay U.S. taxes on the cash on the fee of 35 p.c once they introduced these earnings house.

The brand new tax invoice cuts the general company tax fee to 21 p.c, and permits earnings from abroad to be taxed at about half that fee – to as little as 10 p.c.

AbbVie Inc. (ABBV.N) is a living proof.

Its Chief Government Richard Gonzalez instructed buyers earlier this yr that due to the change to a territorial system, whereby solely earnings reported by home subsidiaries face U.S. tax, the U.S. drugmaker expects its tax fee to fall to 9 p.c this yr from round 22 p.c lately.

That ranks among the many lowest of the businesses within the S&P 500 which have introduced estimates for his or her tax fee, which common round 22 p.c, in keeping with Credit score Suisse.

The corporate has traditionally reported its earnings in decrease tax jurisdictions, which is feasible partially as a result of AbbVie parks the vast majority of the patents for its top-selling drug in Bermuda – a rustic that has a zero tax fee on company earnings, in keeping with a P3PWriter evaluation of 88 Humira patents.

Regardless of recording over half its $28.2 billion in 2017 gross sales in the USA and basing most of its analysis services there, the suburban Chicago firm has by no means reported a revenue in its house nation, its annual reviews present.

In 2017, AbbVie reported overseas earnings earlier than earnings tax of $10.four billion on worldwide income of solely $9.97 billion.

But, between 2013 and 2016 AbbVie needed to pay round $1 billion a yr of taxes in the USA, when it took the earnings reported by overseas subsidiaries house to assist cowl bills from its U.S. operations.

Sooner or later, it is not going to must pay such taxes underneath the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The authors of the tax laws, together with Senator John Thune of the Senate Finance Committee, stated their invoice would discourage the shifting of earnings earned in the USA.

However the principal anti-tax avoidance measures launched nonetheless permit firms to learn strongly from revenue shifting.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump celebrates with Congressional Republicans after the U.S. Congress handed sweeping tax overhaul laws, on the South Garden of the White Home in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2017. P3PWriter/Carlos Barria/File Photograph

AbbVie doesn’t deal with the patent places on earnings convention calls or in its SEC filings, and declined to debate its accounting practices or its annual U.S. losses – that are broadly accepted amongst buyers who’ve scooped up its shares over the 5-year lifetime of the corporate.

The principle driver for AbbVie, a rheumatoid arthritis therapy known as Humira, generated greater than $12 billion in gross sales in 2017 from sufferers in the USA, the place the most typical dose has an inventory worth of about $60,000 a yr.

“If the guardrails within the new territorial system have been meant to forestall firms from avoiding all taxes, AbbVie’s (tax fee) is a reasonably clear sign that these guardrails is probably not efficient,” stated Matthew Gardner, senior fellow with the Institute of Taxation and Financial Coverage.

AbbVie just isn’t the one U.S. firm with massive operations at house however which reviews comparatively few earnings. Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), Expedia Group Inc (EXPE.O), Boston Scientific Corp (BSX.N), Synopsys Inc (SNPS.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) additionally do the identical and are set to be massive winners from the shift in territorial system, executives have stated and earnings for the newest quarter present.

Microsoft and Synopsys declined to say if their Eight-year runs of reporting round half their gross sales in the USA however lower than 1 / 4 of their earnings domestically mirrored a tax discount technique. Expedia and Boston Scientific didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Pfizer stated its 10 years of U.S. losses mirrored operational issues somewhat than tax planning.

“Due to our U.S. domicile, now we have vital home funding wants, comparable to paying for R&D, company features, curiosity on our debt, to call a couple of. In consequence, our U.S. operations might be much less worthwhile than different jurisdictions,” the corporate stated in an announcement.

Democrats in Congress are analyzing how the brand new tax regulation incentivizes firms to make use of patents to shift earnings abroad, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden plans to problem a report dealing partially with the difficulty later this summer time.

“The U.S. shouldn’t get suckered right into a race to the underside with a bunch of no-tax, resort-lined islands to please the tax avoidance business and their lobbyists,” stated Wyden, the Senate Finance Committee Rating Member.

The U.S. transfer away from worldwide taxation represents an adoption of recent tax orthodoxy. All the largest western economies function a territorial tax system however, acutely aware of the chance of revenue shifting, additionally they have guidelines to sort out this. Usually, these guidelines permit governments to tax earnings reported in tax havens as if it arose within the house nation.

Congress hooked up such a provision to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permitted on the finish of 2017. Beneath the brand new World Intangible Low Tax Earnings (GILTI) provision, if an organization generates untaxed earnings in a tax haven, it is going to be liable to have that revenue taxed as if it arose in the USA.

Nonetheless, the efficient tax fee that may apply is half the U.S. tax fee of 21 p.c, or 10.5 p.c. And if an organization reviews a loss in the USA, this may be set in opposition to the GILTI provision, or deemed U.S. earnings. This could cut back the tax legal responsibility additional.

Senate Finance Committee spokeswoman Julia Lawless didn’t reply to a query about whether or not the panel’s Republican members would contemplate elevating the GILTI fee. However she stated present discussions across the new regulation centered on its implementation somewhat than redrafting the Act.

“The worldwide title of the tax overhaul included vital anti-base erosion provisions,” she stated.


P3PWriter reviewed near 90 patents on Humira, most of which have been cited by AbbVie in lawsuits as defending mental property. Round two-thirds of these patents have been assigned to the Bermuda subsidiary, AbbVie Biotechnology Ltd. Most of these patents have been developed by groups of researchers completely or considerably based mostly within the U.S., in keeping with particulars in patent filings.

“That is the blueprint,” stated Reuven Avi-Yonah, director of the Worldwide Tax on the College of Michigan Legislation Faculty. “The phantasm that you’d see extra patents saved within the U.S. (underneath the brand new tax regulation) is unreal so long as there are locations you’ll be able to hold them off shore the place you pay zero.”

The precise mechanisms AbbVie makes use of to report such a low a tax fee just isn’t public. Nonetheless, analysts and teachers say company filings usually present that drug firms continuously cut back their taxes by parking patents in a low-tax haven, as AbbVie does, after which have their associates – which manufacture or market the drug – pay the tax haven subsidiary royalty charges for the best to make use of the patent.

This association sees a drug offered right into a goal market, like the USA, at a excessive worth, with the U.S. distribution arm getting a gross sales margin as little as 5 p.c.

Typically the U.S. distribution revenue just isn’t sufficient to cowl group prices incurred in the USA. For instance, a lot of AbbVie’s largest prices – together with $1 billion a yr in curiosity costs and over $50 million in compensation for its prime 5 executives – are coated by AbbVie’s U.S. entities, contributing to the U.S. loss, filings present.

That’s the reason AbbVie can forecast a tax fee beneath the 10.5 p.c GILTI fee, which some commentators have described as a brand new minimal tax fee.

“There’s an incentive to profit-shift,” stated Daniel Shaviro, a Professor of tax regulation at New York College.

Modifying by Elyse Tanouye and Edward Tobin

log in

reset password

Back to
log in